ISRAELI PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly plans to ask President Obama, officially and publicly, to release Jonathan Pollard, the former civilian Navy intelligence analyst who has served 25 years of a life sentence for spying on behalf of Israel. Pollard has served a long time, and Obama should compare his sentence to those of other spies for countries that are not enemies of the United States, and consider clemency on that basis.
But Netanyahu has sought to use Pollard as a chit in the Mideast peace process — first by seeking his release as part of a quid pro quo for a 90-day extension of Israel’s moratorium on settlements on the West Bank, then by promising to press the case as a way of quelling Israel’s hyper-nationalist right-wing.
By transforming the Pollard issue into a trade-off between Israeli and US national interests, Netanyahu only reinforced the case against clemency that has long been argued by veteran intelligence officers and even some conservative senators and House members who have otherwise been consistent supporters of Israel. They still view Pollard’s crime as a serious betrayal of trust and want his punishment to stand as a deterrent against anyone else who thinks that sharing secrets with American allies is morally defensible.
Obama should remind Netanyahu that Israel is responsible for Pollard’s fate. In 1984, Pollard was an unsolicited walk-in who believed the United States was not properly sharing defense information with its ally and offered documents to the Israelis. He did not want to be paid for his services, but his Israeli handler insisted he take money to become a professional spy.
Israeli officials should have turned him over to US law enforcement when he first approached them. Not only did Israel’s manipulation of Pollard cast doubt on Israel’s willingness to help the United States; it also struck a cruel blow against American Jews, who have long had to combat the slur of being unreliable Americans torn between dual loyalties.
Obama should promise Netanyahu that Pollard will get the same consideration for clemency as anyone else who committed a similar crime — and be prepared to defend his decision to the world on that basis. There should be no special deals here. Allowing one would undermine the whole point of Pollard’s punishment.